11 July 2024

Many Thais are familiar with the Muslim community of Baan Krua mainly because of its fight several years ago against a planned expressway, which would have eaten up a significant part of the community had it gone ahead.

Many foreign tourists visit the community to witness silk weaving, considered the backbone of Jim Thompson silk, as the community is the original supplier of the silk brand. However, another reason to explore this historically rich community is to savor the food heritage that has been passed down through the generations. Today, Thai PBS World brings you the curry “Kaeng Som Khmer”, a culinary tradition common among Baan Krua residents but relatively unknown in other parts of Bangkok as well as Thailand.

Why do we have Khmer sour curry in the middle of the capital? On a recent cultural tour during Bangkok Design Week 2024, our curiosity was soon satisfied. Any doubts were dispelled as Khun Tim, our community tour guide Supichar “Tim” Wongyutitham, provided some history about her ancestors. The first group of people to set foot here had their roots in the ancient Champa Kingdom that ruled over what is now central and southern Vietnam.

Tour guide Ms. Supichar “Tim” Wongyutitham

This canal-side neighborhood dates back to the turbulent years at the end of the 18th century, when Cham Muslims from Cambodia and Vietnam fought on the side of Siam (Thailand) and were rewarded with this plot of land east of the new capital.

The 100-year-old house where the cooking class is held.

Starting at the Jamil-Ul-Khoy-Riyah Mosque on Bantad Thong Road, we walked to the 100-year-old house where we would learn a few things about the dish. Along the way, Khun Tim provided information about the community, pointing out features such as art on the walls and paintings under the Charoenphol bridge that give visitors a glimpse of the community.

Community painting under the Charoenphol Bridge narrates the brief history of the local people in Baan Krua

Local food of Baan Krua community depicted in the painting.

We were soon greeted by one of the most beautiful wooden houses in Bangkok and its present owners. Ingredients for the Kaeng Som Khmer were arranged on the table, including Kaeng Som curry paste, kaffir leaves, string beans, tomatoes, and beef. The seasonings were fish sauce, palm sugar, and squeezed tamarind sauce.

At first glance, Khmer sour curry is different because it features beef, whereas most Kaeng Som recipes in Thailand mainly use fish or prawns. When asked what makes it different from the more commonly known Thai Kaeng Som, our tutor Tanya “Jaed” Bakavee said it was the paste, which includes coriander seeds. “We don’t want to give our secrets away too much, so that’s all we can reveal,” she jokingly said.

Tanya “Jaed” Bakavee leads the cooking class.

Like other schools of Kaeng Som, this curry must have three flavors, with sourness the dominant one, followed by salt and a bit of sweetness.

Visitors learn how to cook Kaeng Som Khmer

Visitors learn how to cook Kaeng Som Khmer

The appeal of Khmer sour curry and the migration story isn’t limited to Bangkok or the Baan Krua community, as other parts of the country have their own recipes. Among them is Kaeng Som Puan, the authentic dish of the Lao Pan, where fermented fish (pla ra) is used as the key ingredient. The dish also features pickled bamboo shoots, giving it a unique sour flavor. To make the most authentic Kaeng Som Puan, good bamboo shoots are a must, thanks to their sweet and crunchy flesh.

The Ingredients

The delicious taste of Khmer sour curry comes from the tender meat and delightful aroma. We were instructed to add kaffir leaves shortly after putting the paste into the boiling water. We then added the beef and other ingredients in order, adding the ingredients that cook faster last. The trick is not to stir and wait for everything to boil – at this point, we should lower the flame and allow the curry to simmer.

Our culinary reward came once the dish was finished. The community had prepared a meal featuring the Kaeng Som, crispy fish, and omelette with local sweets. Everyone was happy, and we noticed many took the curry paste home.

Curry paste available within the community products

Apart from this curry cooking class, the Baan Krua community also arranged walking tours and other cooking classes during the 9-day Bangkok Design Week. Unfortunately, the demand was overwhelming, and many activities were fully booked as soon as they were announced. However, the community often holds activities like this, as this closely bonded community works closely with many NGOs, such as Arsom Silom, and public organizations like TK Park, in arranging activities such as tours or dining. Interested persons should follow their Facebook page: Baan Krua Community for updates.

Local dessert “Bor-Bor-Sa-Daek

GETTING THERE

Take BTS to the National Stadium. To reach Baan Krua Nua from Jim Thompson’s House, follow the road along the San Saeb Canal. Alternatively, take a boat to the Baan Krua Pier on the San Saeb canal boat line.

By Veena Thoopkrajae//Photo by Warunee Maneekum